Hurt: The Aftermath

Warning: This is not a nice story.

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In part one of Hurt, I told how my story of domestic violence came to a head. It was the night I decided that enough was enough. My abuser, colloquially referred to here as Dickhead, tried to kill me and a friend visiting from out of town. A good Samaritan came by and stopped it. Dickhead ran off. We drove my battered car and our battered bodies to the police station and filed a report. They put out a warrant for his arrest. Strangely, the assault and battery charges were misdemeanors, but the broken window and dents he left on my car were felonies. Cars are worth more than people in the eyes of the law. With a thick copy of a police report in hand, my friend and I went home, tired, bruised and bleeding, but it wasn’t over yet.

I lived in an old three-story house in Boston that looked something like this:

bostonhouse

It was a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor with a big living room, dining room and balconies on the front and back. Because there were three bedrooms, Dickhead and I had a roommate. This roommate of ours had seen what was going on in the house. He witnessed the brutality and saw what an asshole Dickhead was. He tried to convince me to get help, kick him out, do whatever it took. In part, it was his support that made me feel like I could.

When we arrived home, my visiting friend and I told my roommate what had happened. He went to his room and got a baseball bat. He was sure that Dickhead would come home eventually. I was still in fight or flight mode. Once I got home, I felt safe. The fact that he lived there too hadn’t even occurred to me and it set forth a whole new set of feelings of dread and terror.

We called the police and told them what had happened and that he would probably be back. They said they couldn’t do anything about it, but to call them as soon as he came back. We sat there in the living room dumbstruck and anxious. I went into his room and saw his house keys sitting on his desk. Because I drove, Dickhead did not take his house keys with him. That made me feel better. In houses like that one, there is a shared front door to the house opening to a flight of stairs with apartment doors inside to get into the individual apartments. He had to get through two doors without keys. I had never been so thankful that I lived on the second floor.

About two hours later, he started banging on the front door loudly. When I get in there, you are so dead. We called the police. They said they’d send a patrol car. After deciding he couldn’t get in through the front door, he tried climbing up the front balcony. He got almost all the way up and fell. He went around the side, yelling up epithets the whole time. He tried the back balcony. I just sat there frozen in fear. It seemed like hours or days. He was still trying to get up the back balcony when we saw the flashing blue lights outside. My friend ran to the window and yelled that he was in the back. The cops went around and got him.

They came up to talk to me. I handed them the thick blue copy of a Cambridge police report, which I still have. I lived in Boston, Massachusetts. The events earlier in the evening happened in Cambridge, which is a different city with its own police force and government. The very nice police officers explained that because it was two different cities, even if it was only seven miles away, it might as well have been two different planets. The police report from Cambridge was about as useful as a police report from Mars. They couldn’t arrest him for assault and battery, and property destruction on the Cambridge warrants. They couldn’t arrest him for breaking and entering because he lived there, and because Dickhead hadn’t actually done anything to me that was reported previously or that night in Boston proper, they couldn’t do a thing. The best they could do was public drunkenness, which meant they could keep him in custody overnight. It was better than nothing.

This was just the first of the myriad slaps in the face that the legal system in America would give me in the years to come. After that night, we started going through his belongings. What we found was horrifying. We found countless driver’s license and social security numbers from people we had glancing contact with over the years. The utilities for the house in Boston were in the name of our old neighbors in Detroit. I found a million credit card statements in my name, all with huge balances he never intended to pay. He had been taking out credit cards in my name, and anyone else’s mail he could get his hands on, and that’s how he had been paying the rent. He had my checkbook from my bank in Detroit and had been passing off bad checks on it. All told, I had over $80,000 in credit card debt that I didn’t even know existed because he had been stealing my mail.

The next day, all bruised and bloodied, I went to the courthouse and got a restraining order. I was placed in a room full of battered women. Some of them had crying children with black eyes and bruises. We all sat there, waiting for our turn, eyes down and not saying a word. The sorrow, pain, uncertainty and emotion in that room was palpable. It still makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

The court wasn’t the most sympathetic in the world. I ran into the same problem there that I did with the police the night before. The Boston court didn’t give two shits about what had happened in Cambridge. I started crying. The judge took pity and granted me a restraining order anyway. If he came within 50 feet of me, I could call the police and they would take him away. I was shunted out the side door of the courtroom to find the women who had gone before me clutching their papers and smiling with crying eyes. Women who wouldn’t have dared to say a word in the waiting room hugged each other. We were officially protected. It was validation that what we had gone through was not right. I carried that paper with me everywhere I went, even after it had expired, even after I moved out of state. I still have it nestled in my safe with my birth certificate and passport.

I started making phone calls. I called my bank in Detroit and told them that he had been writing bad checks. They cancelled the account forever, which I thought was already done when I moved out of state. I called the Detroit police and told them the same. They put a warrant out for his arrest in Detroit. The amazingly nice and understanding Detroit detective I talked to also recommended that I contact the Post Office. He was stealing people’s mail and that’s a federal crime.

I contacted the Post Office and they put me in touch with their fraud division. They put a federal warrant out for his arrest. No matter where in America or what he was caught doing, he’d be slapped with a federal charge to boot.

I called the credit card companies and told them what had happened. They said that I had to prove that I didn’t know before they could cancel the debt. I sent them copies of police reports, but it wasn’t enough. How on earth do you prove that you didn’t know something? It’s impossible. I got saddled with all that debt and there was nothing I could do about it.

I called everyone I could in every jurisdiction imaginable. After all the business calls were made, I called a battered women hotline. They told me I made too much money for any financial assistance. I said I didn’t want financial assistance, I just wanted someone to talk to. I’m sorry ma’am. I called another and another and got the same story. Finally, one of them said, you make too much money, but have you tried private therapy? So, I started paying a stranger $90 a week just to talk.

A few years later, a friend of mine, one of the few remaining friend I had in Detroit who believed my story, called me up and told me that she had spotted Dickhead in Detroit. I called the very nice and understanding Detroit detective I had talked to who had given me his personal extension to call if he ever showed up. The warrant had expired. There was nothing he could do.

I called the Cambridge police department. Yes, the warrant was still good. I called Detroit again. I’m sorry, but we can’t extradite for anything other than murder. There was nothing he could do. What about the federal warrant? Well, we can only use that if he’s arrested for something else. There is nothing we can do.

The morning after, Dickhead did come back. The saintly roommate allowed him five minutes in the house to collect his belongings. If he so much as looked at me, he wouldn’t get even that. A seemingly contrite Dickhead left with a bag. I ended up moving to California not too long afterward so I’m not sure if he ever came back.

Not one of those warrants was ever cashed in. Not one. He is still out there. He was living in California, the same state as me, for a few years, but I recently found out he that he moved to Florida. He is still out there. He is freer than I will ever be.

He contacts me every few years with an apology of sorts. With my heart pumping adrenalin, his emails send me into a tailspin for a few days. His messages remind me that he is still out there. It terrifies me that he knows where I am and how to find me. I become paranoid for weeks. I never laid eyes on him again after that morning, but I still feel the effects of what he did financially, emotionally, physically. Every time I brush my teeth, I see the fake tooth in place of the one he knocked out. I will never be able to buy a house because he destroyed my credit. When I’m home alone late at night, sometimes I have panic attacks that he will come to my house and it’s not nearly secure enough. I own a gun and keep a baseball bat next to my bed. I have trouble sleeping. It is all still there. It’s been over ten years and my life is still not back to normal. I will never feel safe again.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please, ask for help. In the United States, contact The National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for anonymous, confidential help 24/7.

This post is part of the On Being Series.